Literally translated caldo de piedra means stone soup. And this soup is, quite literally, cooked with stones.
Caldo de Piedra is a pre-hispanic dish, from San Felipe Usila which is located at the head of the Papaloapan River in the Chinantec region of Oaxaca. Usila is not easily reached as it is somewhat isolated due to it's geography but the drive in is phenomenally wild and beautiful; 3 hours over winding dirt roads (we did it in Nov. 2013). Luckily, you don't need to go all the way to Usila to enjoy Caldo de Piedra, Usila has come to Oaxaca.
Because Usila considers the Caldo de Piedra to be part of their cultural heritage and try and restrict it from being indiscriminately served. In Usila it is made only by men and is offered to women, children, elders and dignitaries as a sign of respect and gratitude. Traditionally, the soup is made on the river banks using heated river stones and then offered to those present. Since this is an important cultural tradition for Usila, they want to preserve the recipe, preparation method and meaning and not see it commercialized. The family that owns Caldo de Piedra in El Tule are Chinantecos from Usila and they got permission from the governing council in Usila to serve the soup at their restaurant made in the traditional manner.
The ingredients are easy...tomato, onion, chile (serrano or jalapeño), garlic, cilantro, epazote, salt, fish, freshwater shrimp (from the river) and river water.
The preparation method begins by gathering river stones and heating them in a pit until they are red hot. All the ingredients are put into a jicara (a bowl made from the fruit of the calabash tree) and a red hot stone is dropped in. The water moves and bubbles a bit, and after a couple minutes the stone is fished out and a 2nd super heated stone added. The water begins to bubble more vigorously and reaches the boiling point. The 2nd stone is removed and a 3rd stone added; by this time the broth is boiling quite rapidly and is ready to be served.
This is exactly the method used by the Caldo de Piedra restaurant. There is a choice to do all fish, or all shrimp and each bowl of soup is made to order, one at a time and arrives at the table still boiling. The shrimp and fish are each cooked just about perfectly. I had the combo but think if I ate there again I'd do shrimp only. The fish pieces are not boned and you need to pay attention and eat around them. I would have also liked some additional chile in my bowl. The caldo comes with tortilla hecho a mano and cooked on a comal over an open, wood-fed fire. They will also do quesadillas if you ask. There are usually several fresh fruit aguas, and if pineapple is available go for it, it's a good match for the soup.
Caldo de Piedra is healthy and delicious. It's located not far from El Tule (the largest tree in the Western hemisphere) and about 20 minutes +/- southeast from Oaxaca City. It's a fun meal and worth trying
Caldo de Piedra is located at
Carretera Oaxaca al Tule KM 11.9
Tlalixtac de Cabrera